Rating: R for this chapter
Summary: In between the lines of a story about honour is another story about love. This is an attempt to fill in those lines and to tell that story, with all the scenes that weren't shown.
Warnings: None (but let me know if any of you think otherwise)
Word count: 5347 for this chapter
Disclaimer: The characters from the book 'The Eagle of the Ninth' belong to the estate of Rosemary Sutcliff, and the film, 'The Eagle' is the property of Toledo Productions, Film Four and Focus Features. All creative rights to the original characters and situations depicted within are held by the respective owners; any additional original material is attributable to the author, and no profit is being made from this story.
Author's notes: I know nothing about wrestling (sexy or otherwise), but used this for reference, as Roman wrestling was based on Greek wrestling.
Additional note: YOU GUYS, I AM SORRY. THAT WAS AN INEXCUSABLY LONG GAP BETWEEN POSTS. Thanks to motetus for all her cheerleading this weekend which helped me get this bloody bit finished, and for her general awesomeness :D and thanks to all of you being so amazing and encouraging when I've been complaining about how stuck I've been these last few months. YOU ALL ROCK BIG TIME.
The winter weather of Britannia was fickle as young love. It could be overarched with a disarmingly bright and yielding sky that was filled with sunny warmth one moment, then harsh and cold and bitter the next. At the meek dawning of a woefully lightless day, a crust of ice had formed at the edges of the lake outside the villa, carved into the remembered shape of ripples. There were distorted pockets of air caught beneath it, like the silvery bubbles that were trapped forever in flawed glass. The grey sky reflected in the grey, murky waters of the lake. The land was dun-coloured and mud-churned, and the air gusted over the hills in skeins woven from fine rain. The valleys were shrouded in pale, freezing mist, as though the clouds themselves were weary and had dropped to the earth, too tired to rise again.
It was some kind of madness to be outside on a day such as this, Marcus thought, as he stood under the open sky without a tunic, stooping to go barefoot as a peasant, and with only his oldest braccae to keep him from the vicious cold. But though he rued it now, it had been his idea. He had been the one to insist on sparring, and he was stubborn enough not to back down from it. There had been far worse hardships to endure when he served in the army, and the niggling reluctance he felt now only told him that he had indeed grown intolerably soft and pampered, if he was prepared to baulk at a bit of inclement weather.
He and Esca had warmed and oiled their muscles as best they could in the heat of the bathhouse on the villa complex, though the effect had little potency or longevity. By the time they had jogged back to the open square of ground that could serve them as a palaestra, Marcus was covered in gooseflesh, and trying his best not to shiver. Esca seemed to find the cold less bothersome, though he had his arms folded tight across his chest as the wind whipped his hair around his head. He wore the leathern braccae he had from the day at the amphitheatre, and an expression of unrelenting glumness that had settled stone-hard on his face when he had enquired what sort of weapons they were to use, and Marcus had informed him that they would begin by fighting hand-to-hand.
Marcus bent low in a preparatory crouch, his muscles flexing and tightening in anticipation, as Esca bounced a little on his toes, watching and waiting. The movement sent a ripple through his wiry frame, drawing attention to the sheen of oil on his moon-pale skin, scattered with small dark moles. He did not mirror the stance Marcus had adopted, and instead remained upright, his arms loose but ready by his sides. The wind picked up again, sobbing its low lament through the bare trees and sighing over the stiff waters of the nearby lake.
“Ready,” Marcus said.
Esca gave him an expectant nod, and Marcus waited a moment longer for him to get into position. When he did not, Marcus wondered if it was because Esca was trying to make it easy for him – the way he stood would make it all too simple for Marcus to knock him off balance. Marcus knew well enough that he had lost much of the condition of his strength and speed over the months of inactivity he had endured, but to be pandered to like some weakling was too much to bear. He had not degenerated so much that he was less than capable of winning a fight. The insult stung. Esca had never fussed over him before, instead affording him silent support and the dignity to bear his wounds without shame; that he had chosen to draw attention to them now left a bitter taste in Marcus's mouth. Frustration spurred him to action, and he barrelled forwards, making a grab towards Esca's hips, but Esca dodged aside out of the way. Marcus stopped short and rounded on him, bemused by his milk-livered behaviour, after all of Esca's talk of fighting fair, and when Esca had always seemed so keen to challenge him in all other matters before. Marcus had only once run from a fight. Only once. And even then, he had returned.
“I cannot wrestle unless you engage with me,” Marcus said, nostrils flaring as Esca only frowned in reply. Marcus lunged for him again, head down, charging like a bull, and once more Esca stood his ground until the last moment, then slipped away, fleet of foot and graceful as a dancer.
“Come,” Marcus cried out as Esca's reluctance to fight piqued him to anger, that he should be treated with such dishonour, “Do not run like a coward. Fight me.”
Esca made a small, choked-off noise at the back of his throat and pursed his lips, circling closer. Then he bent forwards and darted straight at him, slamming against Marcus's chest with his full weight. As Marcus brought his arms up to lock them around Esca's back, Esca slid out from under his grip in the oil, elusive as an eel, and ducked his head under Marcus's arm to slip free. Before Marcus could grab hold of him again, Esca had planted his foot on the top of Marcus's good thigh, near his hip and sprung upward, one hand braced on Marcus's outflung arm to force it down. As he soared into the air, lithe as a bull-leaper from the ancient court of Minos, he landed a stinging smack at the base of Marcus's neck with the heel of his hand, and spun clean over Marcus's shoulder.
Marcus would not be impressed or distracted by such a show of agility. It was not a legitimate manoeuvre and he would not let Esca get away with it so lightly. He too was fast, and despite his stature and size he had never been clumsy. Swift as thought, his body remembered his years of training as though he had only ceased yesterday, and on instinct, he spun on his heel and managed to grab the slippery skin of Esca's wrist before he could move away. He twisted Esca's arm up behind his back, and with a barge of his shoulder had them both face-down in the dirt with Esca beneath him. He twined his legs round Esca's in an instant, splaying each thigh over Esca's hips to pin him down with his weight, wrapping his knees under Esca's, and bracing each foot over the back of Esca's ankles to hold them in place. Esca made a sharp grunt of protest which turned into an angered snarl as Marcus completed the manoeuvre by letting go of Esca's wrist and locking his arms round Esca's neck and dragging his head upwards. Esca scrabbled against Marcus's forearms, but the slick oil allowed him no purchase. His fingernails scraped over Marcus's skin leaving deep red welts.
“Yield,” Marcus said, surprised Esca had not already done so. Instead, Esca struggled and squirmed and kicked beneath him, his hips thrashing against Marcus's, the muscles of his back writhing and bunching under Marcus's chest as he tried to break free. It was like trying to hold on to a river seething with mutinous fish. He was suddenly very aware of every movement of Esca's body beneath his, the rasp of Esca's jaw against his face, but it was the harsh, choking sounds next to his cheek that told him that he had to end this quickly.
Esca wrenched his head to the side and drew in a glottal breath around the crush of Marcus's arms, hissing hotly into Marcus's ear,
“If I had been armed, you would already be dead! That would have been a dagger blow that would have killed you outright.” Esca let go of Marcus's forearms and jabbed an elbow backwards, catching Marcus a hard blow in his ribs that made him gasp.
Wincing, Marcus let Esca go and went back onto his haunches. He could still feel how the hollow of his throat smarted where Esca had struck him.
“We are only wrestling. Not trying to kill each other.”
Though, Marcus conceded, if they had truly been pursuing the sport, they would be doing it in a country where the weather was warm enough to permit doing it without braccae, where the full, oiled lengths of their bodies would be bare and entwined in combat.
For once, Marcus was grateful for the cold.
Esca was very red in the face, panting raggedly. He sat down on his backside in the dirt and levelled a piercing glare at Marcus, tipping his head from side to side. Marcus winced inwardly at the sound of Esca's bones clicking.
“You asked me to fight with you,” Esca said, his voice rasping. “I am, the way I know how.” He tilted his head again to pop another bone in his neck, and with a final vehement look in Marcus's direction, he got to his feet.
“I am no coward.”
“No, I had not thought that of you,” Marcus said, squinting up at him. “But first you dodge my attacks, then all but try to fight me to the death?” He shifted his weight to his good leg and stood up straight, meeting Esca's unwavering gaze, but he saw something there, something that made a feeling of uncertainty settle in his gut.
“You do know how to wrestle, don't you?”
Esca shook his head, rubbing the earth off his forearms and bending to brush off his knees.
“Ah,” Marcus said quietly as his flash of suspicion was confirmed. “I had assumed that you did. Did they not teach you at the arena?”
“They taught me nothing.” Esca's reply was quiet, but there was cold fury in its heart.
“I will gladly teach you,” Marcus said, for what use would Esca be to him as a sparring partner, if he was unfamiliar with this manner of fighting? Though, he found himself adding hastily, “If you wish.” This was not the arena; he would allow Esca to refuse, if he wanted. Esca stood quite still for a moment, then gave him a small nod of acquiescence.
Marcus instructed him in the rules, and how points were won by getting your opponent onto his back, or into a hold he could not escape from. Then they went through the basic manoeuvres, and Marcus could feel Esca's initial resistance slowly subside as he allowed Marcus to manhandle him into each pose, which Marcus did with swift efficiency, concentrating on teaching Esca, and not the smooth glide of skin over skin, as if they were engaged in the steps of a bellicose dance.
“The quickest way to get your opponent to submit is to put them into a chokehold, like I did with you before,” Marcus said as he looped an arm loosely around Esca's neck to demonstrate. But he knew that Esca had not submitted earlier; he had fought Marcus all the way. At the touch of Marcus's arm round his throat, Esca immediately went rigid, his hands going up automatically to shove Marcus off him.
“Good. Your instincts are right. When we spar, try to do the same to me.”
“A chokehold,” Esca said, brows rising a fraction as he levelled his gaze at Marcus's throat. “On your neck.”
Marcus had to admit, his neck was almost the full girth of one of Esca's thighs, but he wasn't about to apologise for his size, and instead gave Esca an amused shrug.
“You said it yourself – speed can outmatch strength. Now, see if you can get me on my back.”
Esca's brows twitched up again, then his eyes narrowed in challenge. This time they began to tussle in earnest, grappling against each other's oiled skin. A light pattering of rain began to fall, dimpling the already damp earth, and sending up an echo of its plashing voice from the furrowed surface of the lake.
Marcus paid no heed to the bone-deep throb that started up in his leg. He had been expecting it, and knew that if he was to improve, he would have to push himself past the initial pain and endure it until his muscles grew strong again. He caught Esca by the waist and overpowered him with relative ease once more, bundling him to the ground and enveloping Esca's smaller frame with his own. Esca struggled against him this time as well, only stilling when he realised how thoroughly he was pinned down. Even then, there was no passivity to him, no sign of his muscles going lax as most opponents would, when they realised they had been beaten.
Marcus held him down as they both breathed hard, waiting for Esca to give the signal Marcus had shown him that conceded defeat. There was a certain degree of impetuousness that formed part of Marcus's character, which had served him well when he had needed to make split-second decisions in a battle, but which also formed the foundation of his quick temper. It meant that he had not hearkened to the small voice at the back of his mind, when he had thought it could only be beneficial to begin to train and spar again - that it would provide him with the discipline that had been so sorely lacking. He had not factored Esca into the circumstance.
In a rush of unwanted thoughts, he became aware of the jut of one of Esca's nipples pressing into his chest, hardened by the cold, and how warm Esca was against him, how he could feel the power contained in the body beneath him, bunched tight in Esca's wiry muscles. The warmth seeped into him, settling low in his body. As with the ache in his leg, he would ignore the faint feelings of growing arousal that were quite natural when the blood became hot with the exertion of exercise, particularly when coupled with the stimulation provided by the movement against an opponent's body. He was usually so focused on the competition and on winning that he had always paid little mind to the other sensations in his body that were not directly connected to overcoming his opponent. Perhaps it was because he was out of practise, and the sudden return to activity made everything seem more acute. It was not simply that it was Esca. That, he would not allow. Now was not the time to think on how he wished to touch him without guile, without deceit, without the pretext of combat. And most of all, without the gnawing, wracking shame that he had buried deep within him, but which stirred at every glance, every word, every brief moment of contact that Esca gave him.
They had been cooped up together for too long. Marcus knew that was the crux of it. He had spent too much time in one place, with no purpose, order or discipline to bring his mind to focus. This was the outcome, that all his attention was drawn to Esca as if he was a lodestone, and Marcus nothing more than warm iron cleaving to him. He had seen it before, when his men had been stationed for too long in one place, and formed attachments to the camp followers and local women. It was marginally less detrimental to discipline than when they risked an attachment to each other, but nonetheless, Marcus knew an unhealthy fixation when he saw it, and he had long seen it in himself. For a soldier, the glory of Rome must take precedence to affection, even to love. Honour and discipline formed the very foundations of victory, and had to be maintained at all times.
Marcus could tell that Esca would stubbornly lie there all day rather than admit defeat, so he rolled off him and stood up, saying brusquely,
“The point is mine.”
Though, to show goodwill, he held out his hand. Esca stared at it for a moment, as if this was somehow an insult rather than a gesture of peace. And yet, Marcus saw the hard tense lines leave Esca's body, the creased frown lifting a little from his brow. It still did not look like defeat, nor surrender. For once Esca did not look Marcus in the eye, as he reached up and took Marcus's outstretched hand, pulling himself upwards. The feel of his palm against Marcus's lingered, as though it might have been a handclasp between friends, though they were not.
The heavens finally opened with the rainstorm that had been building the whole morning, unleashing a heavy deluge that soaked them almost instantly. The water bunched into fat droplets on their oiled skin, running in silver-bright rivulets over their shoulders and chests. Marcus shook his head to one side with a grimace, then stuck a finger in his ear, trying to dislodge a stray trickle of water that had seeped in with a sibilant whisper, brought to a roar as it sealed in the sea-loud boom of his heart.
“Do you wish to stop until it passes?”
“It won't pass for some time,” Esca said, running his hands over his hair, flattening it against his head. The wet ends trailed and curled at the back of his neck. He flicked the excess water from his hands, sending the drops flying in a wide arc from the tips of his fingers.
“Again,” Esca said, face tense with concentration as he hunched over in readiness. The ground churned and thickened beneath them as they circled around each other. Marcus found that his feet were growing numb as he sank into the cold, gritty earth, and he had to curl his toes in the mud to steady himself. Still, the damp soil smelled good underfoot, rich and loamy.
They both sprung forwards at the same time, but Esca was faster, and this time he was ready for Marcus's attack. Rather than going for Marcus's waist or neck, where Marcus's strength would be more likely to put him at a disadvantage, instead Esca caught hold of his right wrist and twisted it sharply, forcing Marcus's arm diagonally across his body. At the same time he hooked his other arm underneath to brace it against the back of Marcus's elbow, pushing it up into an unnatural angle.
Even with the aid of the slippery oil, Marcus could not wrench his wrist out of the grip of Esca's fingers and thumb, terrifyingly strong. And though he shoved and grabbed at Esca with his free arm, Esca hung on with grim tenacity. Marcus knew he should not have been surprised at Esca's strength – the man had half-carried him through much of of his infirmity, after all. Though, he was surprised when Esca proved that his earlier concerns had been entirely wrong: Esca had no qualms whatsoever about exploiting Marcus's weaker thigh, as he stepped lightly between Marcus's splayed feet, hooked his knee round the back of Marcus's leg and barged into him with full force.
It was an unorthodox move, but highly effective. There was a split-second as Marcus lost his balance and went tumbling to the ground when he felt oddly elated – a curious delight soaring in his chest instead of the usual infuriation he felt when an opponent brought him down. It felt, inexplicably, like pride, rather than defeat.
And then Esca had him on his back, all the sharp angles of his bones digging in to Marcus's flesh as he flattened himself down to lean on Marcus with his full weight. Marcus tried use the grip of his legs to turn them over, but stopped as pain flared through his arm. Esca shoved him down against the dirt again, his slate-blue eyes bright and triumphant. If Marcus rolled to the right, Esca could easily wrench his arm from the socket and dislocate his shoulder. If he rolled to the left, he need only lever Marcus's arm down over his chest a little more, and it would snap at the elbow where it was locked across Esca's forearm.
“You learn fast,” Marcus said, finally allowing himself to feel impressed. Esca leaned over him, fierce in his conquest, as drips splashed down upon Marcus, blood-warm from Esca's skin and mingling with the cold raindrops that fell from the gull-grey sky overhead. A clay-coloured streak ran up one side of Esca's face and into his wet hair, where Marcus had shoved at him with a muddy hand, making him look as though he had been daubed with battle paint.
“I have bested you, then,” Esca said, voice hoarse and proud.
Marcus couldn't help but give him a small smile, and nodded his acquiescence. Esca released his hold on Marcus's arm, pushing up so Marcus could slide it free, then reared back further as he made to stand. The motion drove his hips down, and he faltered.
Above him, Esca blinked, and Marcus saw the fire of victory clearing from his eyes as he stared down at him. Marcus was caught in that liquid moment after fighting, when his awareness expanded from the narrow focus of contest and every other sensation once more filtered through, making time feel preternaturally slow. In an instant of almost painful lucidity, he was aware that Esca was atop him, his hands braced on either side of Marcus's shoulders, his narrow hips held between the squeeze of Marcus's thighs where their legs were tangled together. It somehow felt like a greater threat to him than being at the swordpoint of an enemy, to have Esca thus between his thighs, as he lay in the dirt with his legs spread the way no man of Rome should allow. The thin fabric and leather of their braccae was plastered to them by the rain, and all the cold elsewhere faded into nothing, leaving only undeniable heat where their lengths aligned, the friction of every tiny movement felt too keenly.
It seemed that Esca too was not immune to the effect of the sparring; Marcus could feel him, could feel how hard he was against him. There could be no pretence of sleep between them this time, the tension so easily ignored by turning away from it and denying its existence. Marcus knew he should feel anger, disgust. He knew he should throw Esca off him and rise with his head high as though he was the victor, for Rome always should be the victor. But instead he felt his cock throb in earnest, the now familiar low clamour of desire in his blood that heralded a dark, shameful fate.
The look in Esca's eyes dared him not to look away, as the line of his mouth pressed to bloodlessness and the muscles ticced in his jaw. Here was the real contest between them, fought out with the silent ferocity of their stares, the shudder of breaths taken, held. They were at an impasse, where neither of them would move or back down, while the rain pelted onto them, cold and heavy as woe.
This all occurred in the space of five rib-pounding heartbeats, as Marcus felt his blood grind its way through the choked muscle at the centre of his chest, when abruptly there was a quiet smattering of applause. They both whipped their heads round towards the source of the noise. Marcus squinted through the rain and saw his uncle, standing safely out of the storm under the shelter of the colonnade, and with a sensible warm cloak drawn around him.
“Very good, very good,” Aquila said. His white whiskers were drawn up at the corners in deep amusement. “Now go and get cleaned up before lunch. Both of you are filthy as a couple of wild dogs.”
Esca scrambled off Marcus, got to his feet and stood over him, looking down at him quite impassively as if Marcus was a rock or a tree branch lying at his feet. There was pride in the angle of his head. Marcus pursed his lips, hating how it made him feel somehow chastised. Then Esca held out his hand as Marcus had done for him, palm up, as though reaching across a great chasm. His eyes were dark, unreadable, the rainwater sliding off his eyelashes. Marcus clasped hold of his wrist and Esca pulled him to his feet, then he went to the villa to fetch them fresh clothes without a backward glance.
The air of the bathhouse felt oppressively clammy after the cold rain outside, filled with thick steam winding in coils, rubbing up against the walls like blind serpents. Marcus peeled off his sodden braccae and looked down balefully at his cock, jutting out shamelessly as if he were no better than a lawless satyr. He pushed a rough hand against himself, impatiently trying to will his desire away, then wished he had not, sickened by the intense spike of pleasure that went through him. His nerves were afire and he felt everything too keenly, even overly-aware of the pain in his arm where Esca had wrenched it. If he was to find relief, he must find it fast while he was still alone.
In spite of how the overtaxed muscles of his thigh screamed in protest, he dropped to the floor where one of the shallow drains opened out to allow a runoff from the bath, and, thinking himself the most sordid wretch, he grimly took himself in hand, clutching himself hard enough to cause pain along with bright, iniquitous pleasure. He had barely given himself a few brutal tugs when he felt his cock pulse, the glossy white strands gushing forth through the grip of his fist, spattering into the slow-running water. He watched in a daze for a moment as it washed away. His chest felt hollow, save for the overwhelming feeling of disgust that filled him at his own weakness, disgust which should have arisen sooner, which might have prevented him from stooping thus like a beast. He stood, shaking off the way his ears were ringing, and made for the bath to wash the evidence of his shame from himself.
The intense heat of the water made his chilled skin prickle sharply all over, sending a hiss through his blood that made his leg throb enough to make him wince. The guilty flush in his cheeks, at least, was easily explained by the heat of the baths, rather than his ignominious behaviour.
The door opened, letting in a breath of cooler air for a moment. Marcus did not look up; instead he busied himself with scrubbing the caked dirt from his hair as Esca stripped and climbed into the bath. It was only then that Marcus gave him a quick glance, then stared openly as Esca scooped up a couple of handfuls of water and sluiced them over his head. Dark bruises were blossoming around his arms and throat in the heat of the bath, the colour deepening on his pale skin before Marcus's very eyes.
“I have hurt you,” Marcus said, annoyed with himself.
Esca peered at the bruises dismissively, as though they had escaped his notice until Marcus drew them to his attention.
“It is nothing.” Esca shrugged, picking the dirt out from under his fingernails. Marcus shook his head. Lack of practise had made him too rough, too careless.
“I forget my strength at times.”
“You need not worry that you have spoiled your property,” Esca said, haughtiness creeping into his tone. “I have known worse hurts than these before.”
“My-- property?” Marcus said in confusion. Then the realisation of what Esca meant dropped through his belly like a quernstone. “You mean you?”
Esca shot him a quick glance then looked away.
“Why must you always do that?” Marcus's voice rose and echoed off the walls as his temper got the better of him. “Why must you always- ” He checked himself, reining back his anger before he said or did something he would later wish he hadn't. The clotted air of the bathhouse felt stifling. He hated it, this friction between them, how Esca managed to make his scorn and disdain quite clear, but would never disobey him outright. His loyalty and dedication were constant, unwavering, and at times, he even showed Marcus what seemed to be heartfelt kindness. At certain times, times like only moments hence, as they lay together upon the earth, he made Marcus wonder, made him wonder if –-. But, no, Marcus knew that it was mere fancy brought on by his own degenerate thoughts. He sighed, letting his anger go with his breath.
“I mean you no harm.”
“And you have given me none,” Esca said, quiet and firm. “I have not left you unmarked either, Centurion.”
Marcus looked down at himself through the distorting shimmer of the warm, murky water, and felt the faint sting where Esca's nails had left deep scratches on his skin, the ache at his mauve-mottled wrist where Esca had gripped his arm to twist it, and saw the round mark on his ribs from Esca's sharp elbow, purple-ripe as a burgeoning damson.
“How is your leg?”
“Coping,” Marcus replied, a little too quickly. Esca's expression suggested that he remained unconvinced, again showing those signs of care that so disarmed Marcus, particularly when they had been arguing only seconds before. He thought for a moment, then made a decision that would favour them both.
“I think we will start with practice weapons tomorrow.”
“So soon? Is my wrestling still not Roman enough?” Esca's eyes were a darting flash of quicksilver, narrowed in Marcus's direction.
“No, that is not it at all,” Marcus said with a huff of awkward laughter. He would have thought that Esca had again taken offence, were it not for the slight arch of his brows, the faint curl of his mouth. “It's no sport to roll in the mud. Better to wait until the season is drier.” And better to keep the distance that weapons afforded to them both, Marcus thought. The morning had been troublesome enough, and would do well not to be repeated.
They lapsed to silence for a while, scraping the lingering oil from their limbs, as the tension began to dissipate, both from their sore muscles and the heavy air between them. Marcus twiddled the small bronze strigil between his fingers, drips falling from its curved blade, as he thought on how best to continue their training.
“Do you have any weapons you prefer to use? I don't think there is much in the way of equipment here,” Marcus mused. His one gladius would be of little use between the two of them. “We'll need to get some more.”
“For close combat, I can use any weapon you give me. For hunting, if the choice is mine to make, I prefer the bow.”
“I favour the spear for hunting,” Marcus said. “And I cannot spar against you with a bow.”
Esca responded with a suggestion of a nod as though to acknowledge that was the end of the matter, leaning his head back against the curved rim of the bath and closing his eyes. It gave Marcus the opportunity to watch Esca's face in repose without himself being watched in turn, as he listened to the erratic plack-plack sound of water falling through the aperture in the ceiling onto the tiled floor, underscored by the constant rushing hiss of the grey-sheeted rain outside.
“You do fight well,” Marcus said after a long pause. “It was no idle boast.”
Esca cracked open his eyes and slid Marcus a look that conveyed, quite unequivocally, 'I told you so'.